Feeling like I’m not good enough at anything

If you’ve known me for awhile, then you probably know that I have more interests than time[citation needed]. I read like there’s no tomorrow, I write like I’m running out of time, I dabble in math and languages and code and techy things, I obsess over everything involving NaNoWriMo, and on and on the list goes.

It doesn’t feel that way at times. Most of the time, to be honest. The days of assuming I’m the smartest in the room are long gone, left behind in the small town I grew up in. This isn’t a bad thing; leaving that small town was one of the best things I ever did for exploring a world where I was no longer a special snowflake. But while I got to know people with talents I definitely don’t possess, I also experienced the feeling that they knew a lot more about these things than I did.

There’s a name for this: impostor syndrome. It’s more common among high achieving women and members of minority groups, and the idea of not being good enough at a thing can prevent someone from pursuing an opportunity that they otherwise have the experience for. I’ve experienced impostor syndrome in various situations: applying to jobs, calling myself interested in a field, saying I work in the tech startup world when I’m not a developer… the list goes on.

But there’s not a name (that I know of, anyway) for what I experience: being interested in so many things but not knowing a lot about those things. Sure, this could be considered a form of impostor syndrome. I can’t help but find things interesting. It’s part of who I am. This results in a lot of dabbling and learning a little about a lot of things, then hoping that knowledge sticks when I start dabbling in different things. But when it comes to sharing knowledge about those things, I find that just knowing a little bit about a thing isn’t enough; everyone else seems to know more than the few nuggets of knowledge that I possess.

Shouldn’t I use this opportunity to learn from these people who know so much more about the topic? Yes, and I often do, even if I forget some of the new information afterward. But then I meet people who know a lot about a ridiculously wide variety of things, which makes me question my ability to claim that I enjoy a diverse array of interests, the people who are so good at retaining and pursuing a lot of things. I aspire to be like them in their pursuit of interesting things.

Sounds like a personal problem, right? Believe me, I know. The logical solution is to stop comparing myself to everyone else, for Baty’s sake. But I’m working on it, both pursuing more things and embracing the things I am interested in and know a lot about.

2 replies on “Feeling like I’m not good enough at anything”

There’s another factor here that’s hard to put in, but I’ve seen it summed up this way: There is also your learning ‘velocity’. When you first learn, your velocity increases, but as you get smarter, that velocity slows. So while you may be a ‘master’, or good at it, everything seems at a standstill.

It sucks; I feel it OFTEN (and imposter syndrome too). Even in my own professions where I KNOW I know a lot more than others, I feel like a novice and inexperienced and unskilled.

Even at that it’s hard to stop comparing to others, but one thing that’s always helped for me was to simply look at myself – is this the best me I can be on this topic? And is it worth MY time to learn more? Not for society, but for me? Sometimes answering that question helps us say “I may not be an expert, but what I know is okay for me, and that’s enough.” And then we can defer to those who know more.

As the saying goes, everyone’s an expert at something. Just gotta find what it is. (And as it finishes out, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will forever spend its life thinking it’s stupid.)

Sounds to me like you’re describing the “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Which, in a way, can be much more rewarding than being an expert in a specialised field. If you have basic knowledge of a lot of things, you can build on that knowledge more easily than someone starting from scratch.

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